North Korean state media reported that leader Kim Jong UN appeared in public for the first time in 20 days on May 2, to mark the opening of a fertiliser company.
The reported appearance, his first since an event on April 12, comes amid global speculation over his health.
International speculation about Kim’s health began after he missed the birthday commemoration of North Korea’s founding father and Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, on April 15.
The anniversary is one of the biggest events in the North Korean calendar and Kim usually marks it by visiting the mausoleum where his grandfather lies. He has never missed this event before.
Claims about his ill-health surfaced in a report for a website run by North Korean defectors.
The Daily NK reported citing an anonymous source that they understood Kim had been struggling with cardiovascular problems since last August.
This then led to a chain of reporting by international media claiming Kim was in a critical condition after undergoing heart surgery.
There were some sensational headlines also regarding the North Korean leader’s health. US media also reported that Washington was “monitoring intelligence” that Kim was in “grave danger” after the surgery, quoting an anonymous US official.
However, South Korea’s government and Chinese sources who spoke to Reuters news agency downplayed the rumours, saying there was “nothing to confirm” and “no special movement has been detected” in North Korea.
Seoul’s unification ministry also said “groundless” speculation about Kim had caused “unnecessary confusion” and called for more careful consideration in the future.
Kim Yeon-Chul, South Korea’s unification minister, suggested that the reason for Kim’s absence at the birthday commemoration of Kim Il Sung may have stemmed from concerns around the coronavirus.
“It is true that he didn’t attend [the anniversary] for the first time since he took power,” Kim Yeon-Chul said.
“However, regarding this year’s birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, many anniversary events including celebrations, banquets and national meetings had been cancelled because of coronavirus concerns.”
This report was produced by Al Jazeera NewsFeed’s Katya Bohdan.